Xi Jinping gambles on ‘Chinese Dream’

Xi Jinping  

Chinese President Xi Jinping is on a trail that could see him become an icon — scripting a message that blends Confucius and Mao, without abandoning the centrality of Deng Xiaoping’s code of reforms.

If Mr. Xi gets the Yin and the Yang of governance right, provoking a national “rejuvenation” and fulfilling the “Chinese Dream”, it could catapult the President into the big league of those who have left a mark on post-revolution China. But there is also a real danger that the next phase of reforms that Mr. Xi seems set to embark on could boomerang, shattering his carefully choreographed image.

With the nation on the cusp of another post-revolution transition, the Chinese Dream has emerged as the slogan steering Mr. Xi’s tenure. Analysts say he is the torchbearer re-igniting the Communist Party of China (CPC). The Party seemed to have lost its lustre after 10 years of Hu Jintao’s leadership, which had strong technocratic attributes but seemed bereft of charisma.

As the charismatic Mr. Xi rose to power, so did the Chinese Dream. The President has described the Dream as “national rejuvenation, improvement of people’s livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society and military strengthening.”

In less opaque language, it covers four inter-related elements.

First, all Chinese leaders aspire for a stronger nation, implying acquisition of hard power — economic, military, scientific, political and diplomatic. But they also call for a civilised China, with equity, fairness, and high morals; a harmonious China, with amity among social classes; and a beautiful and environment-friendly China, relevant as the smog choking cities such as Beijing point to an unsustainable path to development.

Some writers envision the essence of Chinese Dream as “sustainable development”, where prosperity is not channelled into consumerism but into rational, eco-friendly consumption.

Mr. Xi is hoping to root these concepts in the traditions of the Chinese civilisation. That’s where Confucius comes in. Unlike the early revolutionaries who disparaged the philosopher for his beliefs, Mr. Xi has embraced him. Confucianism has been placed at the core of a unique identity that the leadership wants to impart to the Chinese Dream, distinguishing it from the rival American dream, born out of an individualistic philosophical tradition. The new identity is seen by many as an antidote to the appeal of “colour revolutions”— brought into focus by the ongoing student-led protests in Hong King.

Unsurprisingly, the 2565th anniversary of Confucius in September turned out to be a mega-event marked by celebrations in the Great Hall of the People, China’s political hub and home to the National People’s Congress.

Soon after assuming the top post, Mr. Xi embarked on a year-long “mass line” campaign to revive the Party’s grassroots appeal, by targeting corruption and self-serving lifestyles among officials. The President saw the campaign as central to the legitimacy of building “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”. A commentary in Xinhua, the state-run news agency compared the mass line campaign with the historic Long March led by Mao Zedong, underscoring the point that a distilled legacy of China’s founding icon was far from forgotten by the new leadership.

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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 6:32:23 AM |

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